If you’ve been following along this month, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the concept of “vision.” It’s a word that is often thrown around with casual enthusiasm, and if you asked the average leader, they would say it’s important to have a strong vision for what they do. Paradoxically, people often talk about their vision without ever giving a clear picture of what it is. This is why writing a vision statement is important for every organization—to have a rallying point for its future. In this post, we’ll distinguish between a mission and vision statement, and we’ll talk about some strategies for writing your own vision statement.
First, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a mission and vision statement because the terms are often used interchangeably. We have a great explanation you can check out here, but you can think of them as two prongs on a carving fork—you need both. A mission statement highlights your goals for what you do, whereas a vision statement emphasizes what you hope to accomplish through those goals. Or, to put it another way, your mission statement is about implementation, and your vision statement is about aspiration. Your mission statement is about who you are, and your vision statement is about where you’re headed.
If you’re of a math-minded person, you could think of the two kinds of statements following these equations:
Mission Statement: Your Organization + Your Action = Your Identity
Vision Statement: Your Organization + Impact on an Audience = A Future Change
Writing a mission statement is another topic for another time, but before we dive into the specifics of writing a good vision statement, it’s important to understand that they are all about balancing the following four goals:
1. Be realistic.
Your vision statement should be something you can work toward. Writing a vision statement should result in something either measurable or clearly attainable. If you don’t end up with either of those, the statement should be revised.
2. Be flexible.
On the other hand, your vision statement should leave room for different ways to reach your end goal. Save the practical implementation for the Mission Statement.
3. Be ambitious.
Your vision statement should be an aspiration that feels just out of reach. Writing a vision statement is about stretching your organization. If you’re a marathon runner, making it your “vision” to run a 5K is a pretty lousy goal, and it will ultimately make you a worse runner.
4. Be reasonable.
At the same time, your vision statement should be reasonable in the sense of being relevant to your work. Start with the kind of change you want to see in your community and expand from there. For example, if you run a local nonprofit, you shouldn’t write a vision statement about changing the world.
Writing a vision statement can be as ambitious or restrained as you see fit, but it should be rooted in your organization’s identity, and there are many right ways to do it. Let’s look at two examples from the same field—fast food.
Burger King: “To be the most profitable quick service restaurant business, through a strong franchise system and great people, serving the best burgers in the world.”
This statement is very quantifiable and measurable. It has a clear goal (to be the most profitable QSR business), a strategy, (through a strong franchise system and great people), and an ambition (serving the best burgers in the world).
If we look at another statement, you might be shocked at how different it appears to be.
Chick-fil-A: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
Unlike Burger King, Chick-fil-A’s vision makes no mention of specific financial goals, but it is still a realistic goal. It reads more like what you might expect a nonprofit to share because Chick-fil-A’s goal is qualitative instead of quantitative. There isn’t a measurable end point like being “the most profitable,” but we again see the action (To glorify God), the strategy (being a faithful steward), and an ambition (to have a positive influence).
Likewise, in both instances, these statements are something that can be acted upon. Even though they have vastly different intents, they are both paths that can clearly be followed, even if they need to be adjusted with time. They also give us a helpful model to put our original equation in a handy dandy, mad libs-style template, you could write your vision statement like this:
To _______ by ___________ in order to ___________.
This is just one possible way to structure your statement, and if you’re looking for more examples, we recommend spending some time on Comparably to read about organizations you admire. This site collects mission and vision statements and lets you see how different companies are perceived. It can give you a great sense of what works or doesn’t work, as well as how it relates to buy-in.
Ultimately, the specifics of your vision statement are best left up to you because only you know where you want your organization to go. If you feel stumped or want help moving to the next step, reach out to us. We’d love to talk with you about what your organization can do to clarify its vision and elevate its ambitions.